Bamboo (subfamily Bambusoideae) can be very difficult to eradicate once it gets a foothold, and it spreads rapidly, but you may not have known that when you planted it as a privacy screen. Now that you do know, you want to eradicate it before it takes over your entire garden and spreads into your neighbor's yard, and you're looking for an herbicide that will do the job without harming the environment and hopefully without killing the surrounding vegetation.
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Salt and vinegar seem like likely prospects and are at least less hazardous than gasoline, which some people claim is effective. Actually, though, the best methods for killing bamboo don't involve chemicals at all. If you do try to off your bamboo plants with salt, vinegar or a combination, you have to be diligent if you want to be successful, and in the end, it would be better to do the job without them.
Salt and vinegar can kill bamboo, but neither provides an efficient way to permanently rid bamboo from your yard.
The Problems With Salt and Vinegar
Sounding more like something you should put on your french fries instead of your bamboo plants, salt and vinegar both have the capability to kill vegetation. Salt has long been used to kill plants because it dehydrates them when they draw it into their roots in much the same way that saltwater dehydrates people who drink it. Vinegar kills by virtue of the acetic acid it contains, but the plants have to absorb it through the leaves for it to work. This would seem to suggest that liberally spraying 30 percent vinegar on the leaves while dousing the soil with saltwater would create a double whammy that no plant could survive.
Unfortunately, bamboo would probably survive this treatment unless it is in the early stages of growth, and its rhizomes haven't spread far from the stalks. Spraying vinegar on the leaves might kill the stalks that are already growing, but new stalks will sprout from the rhizomes that haven't been treated with saltwater. Meanwhile, by soaking the ground with salt and spraying vinegar liberally through the air, you've made it virtually impossible for anything else to grow.
Using Salt Safely
You can kill bamboo with salt without rendering the soil barren, but it's a laborious process that is probably not worth the effort considering how easy it is to kill bamboo the right way. Fill a bucket with salt water, set it next to a bamboo plant, dig up one of the shallow roots and immerse it in the bucket. Leave it there for a couple of days to give the plant time to suck in the water and the plant will die. Of course, if you have more than one stalk to kill, you have to treat each one separately, which is why this method is probably too laborious to try.
Eradicating Bamboo the Right Way
Eradicating bamboo is actually easier than you might think, but it takes time, and you have to be persistent. Start by cutting mature canes to the ground with a machete or reciprocating saw, which will starve their roots and kill them. The following spring, look for new sprouts, which resemble large asparagus spears, and either cut them or kick them over with your foot when they are about a foot tall. You may have to do this for several years in a row to be completely bamboo-free.
Chris Deziel is a contractor, builder and general fix-it pro who has been active in the construction trades for 40 years. He has degrees in science and humanities and years of teaching experience. An avid craftsman and musician, Deziel began writing on home improvement topics in 2010. He worked as an expert consultant with eHow Now and Pro Referral -- a Home Depot site. A DIYer by nature, Deziel regularly shares tips and tricks for a better home and garden at Hunker and Family Handyman.